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Alumni interview: Stella Lu, co-founder of the Shanghai Alumni Club

By Sian E Gardiner, on 14 November 2018

Stella Lu is one of the co-founders of the Shanghai Alumni Club. We spoke to her to find out about her experiences as an international UCL student and her activity as an alumni volunteer.

How did you find studying at UCL, in the centre of London?  

The first thing I’d highlight is the culture: UCL is right in the centre of London, near to the British Museum, so we could walk there right after work. You really feel the combination of the traditional and the modern in London. It’s a great lifestyle: the student halls are located in the centre too, so it’s really convenient for people to travel around the city – and to get to the best shopping areas!  

Stella and Sky, UCL alumni

How has your time at UCL helped you to achieve your ambitions?  

I studied Law, specifically international arbitration, which is quite a new and emerging area. The UK is actually the starting place for arbitration, so studying at the UCL law school really equipped me with the skills and knowledge to help my clients.   

Since graduating in 2011, how have you stayed in touch with the UCL community? 

After graduation I went back to China with my husband – who I met at UCL – and we found there was no UCL alumni association here in Shanghai. As we’d loved our time there, and wanted to communicate with other UCL alumni, I started the Shanghai Alumni Club together with some friends.  

Since then, we’ve organised various events to help people to get to know each other. All of the events have one common theme: that we all graduated from UCL and we’re all really proud of that.  

How often do you meet up? 

It depends: we have at least ten events throughout the year. The biggest event is the annual party, where the Provost comes to celebrate with alumni in Shanghai. We also organise academic events and we’ve had forums on subjects such as architecture, finance and real estate. Last week, we held a UCL Connect event about entrepreneurship.  

We also have inter-uni mixers, with other UK schools, where people can relax and get to know one another, along with cultural events. We organise trips to movies or operas – last week, we organised for alumni to see the musical Kinky Boots together. There are also smaller group events, like paintball or picnics, together with other schools. It’s quite a range: from big ceremonies to small events.  

What motivates you to volunteer?  

It gives me a real sense of achievement. We have a committee here at Shanghai, with nine members, and we really feel like we’re family. Whenever we see that an event has been a big success, we feel a huge sense of accomplisment. We also strive to strengthen the relationship between China and the UK; we have good relationships with organisations such as the British Consulate and British Council here, and our work supports theirs.  

What advice would you have for Chinese students looking to study in the UK? 

I’d strongly recommend choosing UCL because of its location, right in the centre of one of the best cities in the world. Also because of its impressive academic achievements – if you study at UCL, you’re sure to have your own. As a student, I always felt UK people were very friendly to us, and UCL is very open to international students.  

  • This interview originally featured in the UCL and China resource: an in-depth look at UCL’s current and historical connections with China.

Ask an Academic: Daisuke Kawata, Professor of Astronomy

By Sian E Gardiner, on 5 November 2018

Daisuke Kawata is Professor of Astronomy at UCL’s Department of Space & Climate Physics, based at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

He was among the recipients of the inaugural UCL-University of Toronto seed funding in 2017, to encourage collaboration between academics at the two institutions. A year on from the initial funding, we caught up with him to hear more about how the collaboration is progressing.

How did you first become interested in astronomy?

My undergraduate degree was actually in Engineering, but when computer simulations started getting bigger and bigger, I became interested in using computers to understand physics and how the universe is made up. I then became fascinated with the evolution of the Milky Way. So I moved from undergraduate Engineering to a master’s course in Astronomy, and I did a PhD in Astronomy in Japan.

Where has your research taken you?

After my post doc in Japan, I worked in Australia for about four years, and I then went to California in the USA. I worked there for three and a half years or so. Now, at UCL, I feel lucky to be part of this research-intensive institution. The research level in the UK is very high and lots of people gather in London: it’s an international environment. At the moment I’m working with colleagues in the Computer Science department, so the opportunities to work with people elsewhere in the UCL family is exciting.

You were one of the recipients of the UCL-University of Toronto seed funding for collaboration with academics at Toronto in 2017. What are you working on together?

Our research aims to understand the structure of the Milky Way, as well as how it formed and evolved. It’s quite an exciting moment for us because the European Space Agency launched a space craft called Gaia in December 2013, which is observing the motion of over a billion stars in the Milky Way, and they release intermittent data to the community so that we can use the satellite data for our research.

As you can imagine, if you’re in the forest looking out at the trees, it’s very difficult to understand how big the forest is and how the trees are distributed – and the same applies for our galaxy. You need a physical, computer model to understand the Gaia Data. So that’s what our collaboration has set up. It’s a computer simulated Milky Way model, and our hope is that this computer model will be used to picture the whole structure of the galaxy.

How did the connection with Toronto first come about?

We met Jo Bovy, my counterpart in Toronto, at a conference about the Milky Way about eight years or so ago, when he was still a PhD student. I knew him because he was making quite advanced statistical models to understand the Milky Way. I knew he was a rising star in our field, but it was two years ago when I was at one of the institutes in New York and he was doing a sabbatical there that we were able to spend a week in the same location and really discuss this modelling technique, ‘Made-to-measure.’

We talked about advancing this computer simulation model, which my PhD student Jason hunt and I had already made a prototype of. We had an intense discussion with Jo on how we could improve it and made a big road map for how we could do so. So that was the starting point, almost two years ago.

What was the outcome of your recent visit to Toronto?

We visited at the beginning of October, and had a series of meetings almost every day, which meant lots of discussion time. We came up with ideas for improving the Made-to-measure technique and other ideas about using Gaia Data to understand the structure of the galaxy. We also started working on some papers together.

Do you have advice for anyone who hasn’t collaborated on such a global scale before? How do you make an international partnership work?

Conferences are always a good starting point – with a couple of hundred people there, there are plenty of people to talk to. And tea time is a good time to start! The next step is, if you’ve met a scientist you want to work with, try and spend an extended period of time at the same location to talk about a specific topic.

What are next steps for the project with Toronto?

We’re going to try and apply this Made-to-measure model to the Gaia Data. Before this application we will try to understand it in a more local neighbourhood: we still don’t know much dark matter is around us, and using this technique we hope we can get more accurate measurements of the dark matter density in the solar neighbourhood.

Study Abroad events to start the year

By Guest Blogger, on 24 September 2018

Next month will see the UCL Study Abroad team host a series of informative events about the international study opportunities open to UCL students. Here, UCL’s Short Mobilities Co-ordinator Owain Evans explains what students can expect from the events. 

UCL Study Abroad Fair 2018
Monday 15 October, 4-6pm, North and South Cloisters, Wilkins Building

From Hamburg to Hong Kong, UCL Study Abroad provides students with a range of global opportunities as well as support while they are undertaking them.

Next month, the UCL Study Abroad Fair will give you the chance to find out more about the exciting international opportunities at UCL. The event is aimed at any undergraduate student considering an international opportunity and isn’t limited to those on Study Abroad degree programmes.

The event will provide undergraduate students with the chance to find out more about the global mobility options available to them, speak to students who have recently returned from an overseas study experience, and learn more about the support you will receive while abroad.

As well as information regarding full year and semester-long opportunities, the fair will also promote non-credit bearing short-term study abroad options, so there will be something for everyone.

Practical information sessions

It’s worth noting that two Study Abroad information sessions for those planning on spending a term or year abroad as part of their degree programme will also precede the fair.

These optional sessions will provide students with all of the practical information needed to join the Study Abroad Programme. The sessions will take place on:

  • Monday 8 October 1-2pm: JZ Young Lecture Theatre
  • Thursday 11 October 6-7pm: Harrie Massey Lecture Theatre

Returning Students Reception

Next month, the Study Abroad Team will also host the ‘Returning Students Reception’ on 4 October in the Haldane Room (North Cloisters).

Aimed at UCL students who have participated in the exchange programme at one of our partner institutions across the world, along with students who have undertaken a work placement in a different country as part of their year abroad programme over the past academic year, it should serve as a warm welcome back from their travels.

The reception will be a career-oriented event and the schedule will include a welcome talk from the Study Abroad Team; a presentation led by one of our Careers Consultants on how students can best market the skills they have gained during their studies or work abroad, and finally a UCL Study Abroad Alumni Panel, during which participants will talk to former students about how their year abroad has shaped their careers, and pass on advice and inspiration.

This will be followed by open discussions and refreshments so we are expecting lots of networking and interesting study abroad stories!

When a volcano threatens: UCL pioneers new warnings of eruptions

By Guest Blogger, on 19 September 2018

By Christopher Kilburn, Director, UCL Hazard Centre, UCL Earth Sciences

Earlier this month, Dr Christopher Kilburn , Dr Danielle Charlton and Lara Smale (UCL Earth Sciences) presented at the Cities on Volcanoes Conference (COV) in Naples, Italy. Here, Christopher blogs about the experience and UCL’s pioneering research into designing forecasts of volcanic eruptions and their impact. 

Understanding how volcanoes behave is just the first step in reducing their threat. The next is to understand the views of the people who have made a volcano their home. Tackling both together is the aim of the Cities on Volcanoes conferences – two-yearly events that are held near an active volcano. This September we gathered in the southern Italian city of Naples, which has survived more than 2,000 years sandwiched between Vesuvius and Campi Flegrei.

UCL was strongly represented by the Departments of Earth Sciences, Science and Technology Studies and Computer Science, where we presented on topics that included forecasting eruptions, designing interactive hazard maps and low-cost monitoring equipment, and using art and the theatre to improve warnings of volcanic activity.

UCL Hazard Centre

The common link is the UCL Hazard Centre (UHC), in Earth Sciences, which for twenty years has been opening new pathways in forecasting volcanic eruptions and communicating about their hazard.

The conference also provided a unique opportunity for early-career researchers to meet practitioners who have had to react to volcanic crises. Ask Dr Danielle Charlton from the UHC.

“A really important aspect of conferences like these is listening to the experiences of fellow scientists who have been directly involved in a volcanic emergency,” she says.

“We heard from the scientists and officials who responded to eruptions at Mount Agung, in Indonesia, Kilauea, in Hawaii, and Fuego, in Guatemala – all within the last twelve months. Learning from these experiences has shaped how I approach my own research, as well as bringing real examples to what we teach on our postgraduate hazard programmes in Earth Sciences.”

Importance of communication

PhD researcher, Lara Smale (UHC) agrees. “The conference was a wonderful opportunity to meet researchers working on volcanoes that embrace a wide range of social and environmental conditions. Common themes were the importance of communication between stakeholders before an eruption and ensuring that applied research meets the needs of end-users. In short, science is not done until it is communicated.”

We learned, too, that successful communication can take advantage of art as well as science.

This theme was promoted by Drs Carina Fearnley and Chiara Ambrosio (UCL Science and Technology Studies) who pointed out that artists “possess unique and novel ways to engage with highly complex concepts and ideas” and “are able to address deeply political and contingent issues that scientists may either overlook or be unable to incorporate.”

Historical links 

The return to Naples was poignant. UCL has had links with Neapolitan volcanoes for more than 100 years. In 1891, Henry Johnston-Lavis (UCL Medicine) produced the first geological map of Vesuvius (copies of which are held in Earth Sciences, as well as at the Vesuvius Observatory, the oldest volcano observatory in the world).

In 1984, Prof. John Guest (UCL Physics & Astronomy and Earth Sciences) advised the UK Ministry of Defence on responding to a volcanic crisis in Campi Flegrei (which in the end did not erupt); and today the UCL Hazard Centre and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art are leading interdisciplinary studies on volcanic warnings at Campi Flegrei, in collaboration with local cultural associations, the University of Naples and the Vesuvius Observatory.

It is a proud tradition and a firm foundation for the next 100 years of success.

Ask an academic: Professor Fulong Wu

By Sian E Gardiner, on 11 September 2018

Professor Wu is Bartlett Professor of Planning at UCL. His research into socially sustainable urbanisation is helping to shape Chinese urban and planning policies. He regularly collaborates with Chinese academics and engages with Chinese policymakers to help China achieve a sustainable urban future.

Professor Wu was among the recipients of the UCL-Peking University (PKU) Strategic Partner Funds in 2017 and 2018. Here, he speaks about his work with colleagues at PKU, and what he hopes to achieve with the latest round of funding.

How did you first become interested in urban studies?

I grew up in Shanghai but when it comes to urban studies, historically, all examples have been from Western Europe or America. The Chinese have a long history of urban planning, so there is a lot of potential in that area, and at UCL we want to use Chinese cities as a laboratory to understand current urban changes, and develop new understanding and theories.

Could you outline the Bartlett’s relationship with China?

The Bartlett has always seen China as a major focus area geographically, partly because a lot of our students are from China, but also because a lot of our research focuses on China. I’m part of a research group called the China Planning Research Group, and we organise regular seminars looking at urban planning in the country.

What are the main aims of UCL’s collaboration with PKU?

PKU is very strong in terms of urban research and planning and today, the development of fast urbanisation in China means a need to revise or reformulate urban theories: we can’t just use the traditional West European/American model. The second aim is to understand urbanisation in China on the ground – its particular history, character, political economy and its trajectory of development in terms of pace.

What can the West learn from China’s approach to urban planning?

In the West, urban planning is regarded as a fairly negative constraint. In China, planning plays a very important role in stimulating development. We can understand why planning plays such a proactive role. UK researchers could learn from the Chinese in how to plan, co-ordinate and regulate city planning. In the past, the Chinese have emphasised speed but now China also emphasises quality, and the UK could share their experience of this.

Currently, we’re studying the Chinese land development model, and I have just finished an ESRC project with Professor Jennifer Robinson from UCL’s Department of Geography on governing future cities – which compares Shanghai, London and Johannesburg. It’s a look at how cities manage mega projects.

So in Shanghai, we looked at a major new town development, and in London we looked at the similarly large-scale Park Royal development. We compare different development projects to work out what’s the best future for organising mega urban projects, particularly from the planning perspective.

You first received the UCL-PKU Strategic Partner Funds in 2017 – what were they used for?

They mainly supported a jointly-organised international conference in London. Around ten professors from PKU came to London for the conference. It was comprehensive – one of the largest on Chinese cities organised outside of China – and covered many topics.

For this coming workshop, we’ve deliberately kept it smaller, to allow more time for discussion. One intention is to develop a voice from inside China. With PKU research, there may be a few presentational or interpretational issues, but we want to help the inside story be known outside of China, so we’ll pair researchers from the two institutions to help make this happen, to discuss papers and perspectives and hopefully get more in depth research outcomes.

Spotlight on the RELIEF Centre

By Guest Blogger, on 6 September 2018

Part of the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity, the RELIEF Centre is a hub for research and learning focused on inclusive growth and prosperity. It is about the prosperity of Lebanon in particular, but it is also part of a larger agenda for developing sustainable ways to improve the quality of life of people throughout the world. Here, the centre rounds up highlights from their activity over the last three months.

With articles published in The Guardian and on the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact blog, the publication of the centre’s first working paper, fieldwork trips and workshops between Lebanon and London, along with the first event organised by the RELIEF Cultural Committee, the last three months have been busy for the RELIEF Centre.

As the centre moves into its second year, the staff are spending more time in the field and devising new activities as part of the centre’s public engagement strategy. Staff continue to enjoy existing collaborations, and have also created many exciting new opportunities to share their work with others. Highlights from over summer 2018 include:

Researchers from the Future Education research theme met in August for the Educators for Change: Teacher professional development (TPD) in the context of mass displacement workshop at the UCL Institute of Education. This workshop is part of a series organised by the team based around teacher professional development in the context of mass displacement. It discussed the development of a curriculum for the Educators for Change Massive Online Open Course (MOOC). The team was joined by officials from the Ministry of Education in Lebanon, Lebanese academics and NGO educators.

Spotlight on student mobility at UCL

By Sian E Gardiner, on 23 July 2018

With Brexit negotiations ongoing, the future of Erasmus, the European Union’s student exchange programme, remains unclear in the UK – making the future of student mobility uncertain.

But as London’s Global University, UCL is committed to providing its students with a truly global experience. And while studying in the heart of London goes some way to providing this, every UCL undergraduate has the opportunity to gain international study experience, regardless of their degree programme.

UCL’s dedicated Study Abroad team exists to support and promote these opportunities for UCL students. Thanks to its work, today UCL has exchange agreements with over 250 institutions in 40 countries across five continents, including 48 of the world’s top 100 universities. But how many students travel abroad each year, and where are they heading?

Increase in outward mobility in 2017/18

Data shows that over the past year, UCL has significantly increased the number of international exchange opportunities it offers to students. In fact, the number of outwardly mobile undergraduates has increased by an estimated 35% since 2015/16.

In 2016/17, 1,164 undergraduate students (around 26% of the graduating cohort) experienced one week or more abroad, while 23.8% experienced four or more. As of July 2018, at least 1,292 students will take part in such programmes during 2017/18, with this figure expected to rise.

Student mobility graph UCL Top destinations

Taking a closer look at the data shows that the majority of UCL students are travelling to North America for exchange placements – 59% of the total, as demonstrated by the pie chart below.Pie chart of most popular exchange placement regions

Top destinations for these students are the University of California, the University of Toronto (U of T) and the University of British Colombia.

At 20% of the total, the second most popular region for UCL students taking up placements abroad is South East Asia and Australasia. Top choice institutions in this region are the University of Melbourne, followed by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the University of Western Australia.

The next most popular regions for UCL students are East Asia, followed by Europe and Latin America. As the graph below demonstrates, these placements are at institutions in cities from Moscow to Hong Kong.

Short-term opportunities

For students who wish to study abroad but don’t have the opportunity to take part in an exchange programme as part of their course, there are also a number of short-term opportunities coordinated by UCL Study Abroad.

This August, for example, 46 UCL students are set to travel to Shanghai and Hangzhou as part of the Study China programme.

Inbound students

It’s also worth noting that each year, UCL in turn welcomes students for exchange placements from all over the world.

Echoing the pattern of UCL students travelling for placements abroad, the highest number of students coming to study at UCL in turn are from North America (59% of the total). These students hail from institutions including the University of California, U of T, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington.

Beyond North America, UCL’s next biggest intake of students is from the National University of Singapore. Also in the top ten are the University of Hong Kong, the University of Melbourne and McGill University in Montreal.

Life-changing opportunities 

Owain Evans is UCL’s Short Mobilities Co-ordinator. He said: “It is important for students to enhance their future employability in the ever-changing and increasingly competitive post-graduation environment. Research shows that students with international experiences achieve better degrees and secure better jobs, so we encourage as many students as possible to seek out these opportunities while studying at UCL.

“In addition to the positive effect on employability, there are a range of benefits available to students who spend time abroad, from improvements in language, communication, cultural awareness to the opportunity to build international networks. Put simply, international opportunities have the ability to change the lives of students who undertake them.

“The UCL Study Abroad team aims to inspire and support students who undertake international opportunities, and the increasing number of options we offer reflects the diversity and range of interests among the UCL student cohort.”

New book by UCL Qatar’s Dr Jane Humphris brings Sudan’s heritage to young audience

By Sian E Gardiner, on 23 July 2018

Dr Jane Humphris, Head of UCL Qatar Research in Sudan, has published a children’s book intended to raise awareness about archaeological work in Sudan among local children.

The book, ‘Sudan’s Ancient History: Hwida and Maawia Investigate Meroe’s Iron’, illustrates the groundbreaking archaeological work currently underway in the Royal City of Meroe, as part of the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project (QSAP), for a younger audience.

Funded by Qatar Museums, QSAP is an extensive, targeted initiative by to support the exploration and protection of Sudan’s culture and history.

Led by the states of Sudan and Qatar, this international project has over 40 missions engaged in the excavation and conservation of ancient sites in Sudan.

Distributed in Doha libraries

The new book follows two young children, Hwida and Maawia, as they discover how the ancient Sudanese produced iron, demonstrating the significant role this played in the history of the Kingdom of Kush.

Following its publication, copies of the book are to be placed in the Museum of Islamic Art library and the Qatar National Library for children and families from across Qatar to learn about this aspect of Sudan’s rich heritage.

As part of the ongoing community outreach programme in Sudan, hundreds of copies have been also handed out to children living around Meroe and placed in the libraries of local schools.

Inspiring the next generation

Speaking at a ceremony hosted by Qatar National Library, Jane said: “Here at UCL Qatar, we believe that the role of archaeologists is not just to discover the past through archaeological excavations, but also to make sure that the work we are doing is accessible.

“We hope that the book continues to be used as an educational tool – both in Sudan and Qatar – so that we can inspire the next generation to become more interested in preserving, protecting, and promoting cultural heritage.”

Ongoing archaeological work

For the last six years, UCL Qatar has been carrying out archaeological work at the ancient Royal City of Meroe, on the east bank of the river Nile.

UCL Qatar’s most recent work as part of QSAP includes the discovery of early iron production workshops, and extensive research and conservation at the Apedemak Temple, one of the most import religious locations at the Royal City.

Ask an academic: Dr Florian Mussgnug

By Sian E Gardiner, on 18 July 2018

Dr Florian Mussgnug Dr Florian Mussgnug is Reader in Italian and Comparative Literature at UCL and convenor of the BA Comparative Literature, which examines world literature from diverse geographical and cultural angles.

He has recently been appointed as an Academic Director of the Cities partnerships Programme, a cross-UCL initiative that will support, fund and promote the work UCL academics carry out with partners in global cities. He spoke to us about his work with the Rome Multidisciplinary Research Hub and his hopes for the launch of the programme. 

Which events took place in Rome in 2017-18?

The Rome Multidisciplinary Research Hub has facilitated 11 collaborative projects, which were convened by UCL lead applicants from six faculties. In total, this enabled the organization of five international conferences, three symposia, six graduate training workshops, two week-long international doctoral summer schools, a piano concert and a photography exhibition. All events took place in Rome over the course of three months, between April and June 2018. More than 100 academic speakers were invited, including 37 UCL members of staff.

How did the Rome Multidisciplinary Research Hub come about?

The idea was born during a period of great apprehension, following the British EU referendum. The spectre of Brexit marked a threat to the future of UK universities, as the Provost of UCL and other university leaders were quick to point out. British universities have benefitted enormously from EU funding and from the free movement of researchers and students, and there was justified concern that prolonged political uncertainty and the noxious rhetoric of the leave campaign would put off researchers in other European countries.

A strong, positive signal was needed, especially for subjects like Modern Languages, European Studies and Comparative Literature, which rely strongly on free movement and the Erasmus student exchange programme.

What makes Rome such a fruitful location for academic collaboration?

Rome was a good place to start. The city can boost a sustained record of research collaborations with UCL, across numerous disciplines: archaeology, architecture, art history, ancient history and classical studies, the fine arts, museum studies, electronic engineering, history, modern languages, neuroscience, philosophy, political science and translation studies.

My vision has focused on strategic collaboration with high-ranking research universities and other prestigious regional partners, including Sapienza University, Roma Tre University, LUISS Guido Carli University and the British School at Rome (BSR). I have pursued this idea since 2016, thanks to three rounds of Global Engagement Funds, the Rome Regional Partnership Funds, and strategic and financial support from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities

You’ve recently been appointed as an Academic Director for UCL’s Cities partnerships Programme. What are you most looking forward to about the project?

The political crisis in the Mediterranean has moved Italy to the forefront of international attention, making it a vital context for important debates about the identity and future of Europe. More than 50 years after the Treaty of Rome, the Italian capital remains a powerful symbol of European unity.

But Rome has also come to be associated with new risks and challenges: the rise of right-wing populism in Europe, the need to re-think national sovereignty in an age of planetary connectedness; the political causes and consequences of involuntary migration or forced immobility. What draws me to Rome, above and beyond the city’s unrivalled wealth of historical sites and cultural artefacts, is the wish to respond actively and fully to these challenges, in line with UCL’s distinctive ethos of cosmopolitanism, radicalism and innovative thinking.

What are you hoping to achieve through the Cities partnerships Programme?

Educated in Britain, Italy and Germany, I am proud of UCL’s reputation as a global academic leader in continental Europe, and applaud our commitment to international excellence. As Academic Director of the Cities partnerships Programme, I will seek to consolidate UCL’s important role through new initiatives and by strengthening the strategic partnerships that have already emerged.

I also wish to map and promote relevant expertise across UCL. The “UCL in Rome” working party, founded in 2016, already comprises over 50 UCL researchers with a specific interest in Italy, based in eight faculties and 19 departments.

How does this approach differ from UCL’s previous international engagement in Rome?

Members of the working party have advanced exciting proposals for joint degrees, pre-university orientation weeks, research fellowships, internships and fixed-term double appointments. I look forward to testing these ideas in the context of the Cities partnerships Programme. Regional engagement funding will continue, and some high-profile initiatives are already planned for 2018-19.

In September, a ceremony at the British School at Rome (BSR) will honour the Italian filmmaker and Slade alumna Lorenza Mazzetti, who will be awarded a UCL Honorary Fellowship. In January, the Provost will visit Sapienza University to address the assembly that opens the academic year in Italy. I also look forward to working closely with Dr Claire Colomb, who will lead activities in Paris. We both welcome this important opportunity to shape debates about the future of higher education in Europe, and to strengthen internationally collaborative research and research-based learning.

Student interview: Studying to become a teacher of Mandarin in the UK

By Sian E Gardiner, on 10 July 2018

Yingying Zhang and Lydia Hargreaves have just completed a year-long Mandarin Chinese PGCE at the UCL Institute of Education to become teachers of Mandarin in UK secondary schools.

The tuition on the course draws on the best current Mandarin teaching practice in UK schools through an established national network, coordinated by the UCL IOE Confucius Institute, a bilateral collaboration with Peking University (PKU) and the Affiliated High School of Peking University, supported by Hanban

We spoke to them to find out about their experiences studying at UCL, and what comes next.

What made you decide to train as a teacher?

LH: Teaching is something I’ve always had a great interest in. I was home educated so I’ve been interested in looking at different ways of education; comparing how I was educated with other perhaps more mainstream options.

YZ: Before I moved to the UK about five years ago, I worked in China, teaching English. I realised I wanted to explore a different culture so I moved to see what the education system is like, and hopefully make a difference.

Your course is coming to an end – how have you found studying at UCL?

LH: The course has affirmed my identity as a Chinese speaker in a way which it never has been before. It’s something I totally didn’t expect, but having native-speaking friends who have accepted me as a Chinese teacher has given me a lot of affirmation. I worried it might lessen my confidence, but it’s actually built it up even more.

YZ: I found it absolutely amazing being able to study at UCL: meeting new students, discovering the culture of different schools on our placements and working with other teachers has been great.

What first attracted you to the course at UCL?

LH: Looking at my options when applying to become a teacher of Mandarin in the UK, UCL honestly seemed to be head and shoulders above the other options. It was kind of a no brainer for me.

Another really big draw was that I’d be learning about supporting bilingual learners and immigrants to the UK who are developing their English language skills in the UK system.

Yingying, what have you found the main differences to be between your teaching experience here, and in China?

In China, it’s very much teacher-led, while in the UK, it’s very much student-led. Here, almost everything is student-centric – we think from their perspective. In China, most of the time the students follow the teacher’s pace and instructions.

What’s been your course highlight?

YZ: I think the support from our tutors. They gave us such good guidelines. Every time they visited us at our placements it was really encouraging. The environment in each school is very different but with their support it made a huge difference. One of the biggest benefits has also been the encouragement to think outside the box – critically, originally and creatively.

LH:  The sense of belonging and mutual support with the other people who were qualifying has been lovely. It was mostly native speakers of Chinese but also people like myself, and I felt really welcomed.

How does it feel to have both secured jobs in London secondary schools?

LH: It’s a really exciting time to be a teacher of Mandarin. The way in which Mandarin Chinese is being taught in the UK is still very much being shaped, and it’s great that in the years to come I can be really involved with that. It’s quite pioneering – many people from our course will be starting the teaching of Chinese for the first time in their schools.

YZ: The UCL IOE Confucius Institute played a very crucial role in helping us find jobs and my new job is from my first placement, at Harris Academy in South Norwood. Learning Mandarin is very new and popular, and I’m looking forward to helping more students get to know the language and Chinese culture.